Sunday, 8 March 2015

Let's talk about that Similac ad

I know this is late.  I was in bed with a newborn when I watched {the ad} circulating Facebook.

I admit it; I cried.  I'm a cryer normally, but post-pardum I'm a ball of hormones and will weep at the drop of a slightly somber leaf.  I started thinking about it again yesterday after I was visited by a sweet college friend, who had patiently waited and given me plenty of space before asking to come and see the (now 7 week old) baby.

This friend is also pregnant with her first and expecting in about a month!  I said Roan was hungry and settled down to feed him, and she was curious about how I knew he was hungry.  I was sort of caught off guard by that question because I'm not at all accustomed to being thought of as a baby authority!  But I was delighted to answer as best I could; and once that can of worms was opened, I was a helpful Harriet of unsolicited advice and new mama tips!  My friend humored me generously.

This is what it's about, I thought.  Just, moms.  Sitting together, woman to woman, and supporting each other.  This is how it's been since always.  That's how women learned of old; not from manuals or lactation consultants that visit in the hospital; not from blog posts like this one or Babycenter forums.  Just women taking each other as the unique individuals they are, listening with sympathy to each unique situation, and offering personalized advice to each other, based on intimate knowledge of the friend and her situation.

Now, that Similac ad purports to affirm the same, but it's kind of impossible.  Why?  Because it's not personal, it's a generalization.  There's no way that those actors have characters so fleshed out that they have a blood type and pictures from their senior prom; they don't have family history of trouble breastfeeding, or a mother who raised lots of kids, or a supportive church group.  They don't don't have those things, either.  Because they're not real people.  They're just actors, playing stereotypes.  The breastfeeders.  The baby carriers.  The working, pumping moms.  The stay at home dads.  They're not actual people with all the intricacies and factors that really do contribute overwhelmingly to how a person carries and nurtures a child, no matter how seemingly far removed or irrelevant.  The Similac ad furthers the stereotype by inviting us to think of people like that--based solely on their parenting styles--and then asks us to promptly forget about it.  It's confusing!

The other thing I didn't like was the potential for it to shut down communication.

I'm a breastfeeding mom.  I consider my children exclusively breastfeed, despite the fact that Roan was on formula for a week after I had dye injected into me for an MRI; and despite the fact that I don't sweat if I run out to the store without the baby and my mom gives him a bottle of formula.  Maybe some breastfeeding advocates wouldn't consider my children exclusively breastfeed.  (Which, if that's the case, I don't really care.)  The bottom line is, breastfeeding is important to me.  I was upset to give Roan formula and a bottle for a week because I want him to breastfeed for a long time.  If I couldn't go back to nursing him, after giving it a reasonable try, I would have surrendered to bottle-feeding and not beaten myself up about it.  But that wouldn't change the fact that formula feeding is not my ideal.  And I don't think I should be robbed of that personal ideal, belittled as a "breast Nazi" because it matters to me, or made to feel foolish because other moms can't breastfeed and I might as well be grateful.  My potent desire to breastfeed--to raise my children in the way that is important to me--should be respected.

If I suddenly had debilitating problems breastfeeding, what kind of support would I want?  I know what I wouldn't want: not a fellow mother coming over and saying, "Oh, it's not a big deal anyway, just put him on a bottle."  Because to me, it is a big deal.  And I'd thank you kindly to acknowledge my feelings!

I would want women around me who acknowledged that it was important to me and so strongly desired it for me.  I would want them to be cheerleaders, fellow fighters, on the front lines with me encouraging me not to give up because they know how important breastfeeding is to me.  And that's what I want to do for others.  I want to empower them as women, as mothers, so that at the end of the day, they can be satisfied and fulfilled and at peace with however they've chosen to raise their children.

So if you want to breastfeed and are having trouble but want it badly, I want to encourage you.  Don't give up!  Don't listen when they tell you "you just can't" and "it doesn't matter."  It matters to you.  If you can't breastfeed or don't want to and are okay with it, I'm okay with it, too.  Nobody needs to be concerning themselves with how you're raising your child because I'm pretty sure you're the authority on your baby.  But I won't be afraid to care about you and what you care about and shy away from helping you in the name of "acceptance;" or because it's frowned upon to show any preference for fear of it being seen as passing judgement.

It dawned on me that maybe the breastfeeding Nazis aren't anti-formula-feeders.  Maybe they're not even anti-formula-feeding or less anti-formula.  Maybe they're just anti-shutting-you-down-for-feeling-like-breastfeeding-is-important.  Maybe they're even . . . oh, I don't know . . . women-empowering.  ;)


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  1. I'm happy to admit that when it comes to a lot of my parenting choices my "ideal choice" and my "best choice" aren't actually the same thing and that's not something I hear admitted too often. For instance my ideal would have been a lovely breastfeeding relationship, my reality was that coming off my antepartum depression the idea of breastfeeding was almost physically revolting (I know it makes no sense, but that's what it was) and so my "best choice" was what ended up being a very healthy, though not my ideal, bottle/formula feeding relationship.

    I still can't figure out why that Similac commercial bugged me, it didn't have me cheering for it - perhaps it was that idea that some how we are so closely defined as a single parenting choice like the way we feed or sleep or carrying. The only thing I did like was that it (inadvertently I think) showed that we're way too caught up in the constant defense of our choices when it just should be a non-issue, but I think you're right that it's not that the choices don't matter. They do.


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